Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of her Little House on the Prairie series, but instead of dealing with Laura’s own life growing up, she tackles the subject of the childhood of her husband, Almanzo Wilder.
Where Laura led a very peripatetic life, moving every year or so around the country with her family, living in the wilderness, usually far from civilisation and existing on slender means and what her father could get from the land, Almanzo had a very privileged lifestyle by comparison.
Almanzo’s family were from upstate New York where his mother and father had a large farm and were one of the foremost families in the county. Well respected, wealthy and well connected, Almanzo’s life is luxurious compared to Laura’s.
That’s not to say that Almanzo and his family did not work. One thing that strikes you as you read the story is how hard their life was regardless of the relative luxury they lived in. There is always something to be done. Almanzo’s mother dyes and weaves the cloth she uses to make the family’s clothes. His father cures the leather for their shoes. They make their own candles and every day is filled from dawn till dusk and sometimes well into the early hours of the morning with jobs they must do to keep the wolf from the door and the farm running smoothly. Much like Little House on the Prairie, the structure of the book takes you through a year in the life of the farm from Almanzo’s point of view.
The book is fascinating, and an affectionate look at a life that is now long gone. I loved it. I am slowly making my way through the series and am enjoying them so much. I recommend them for boys and girls aged 7-12. There are plenty of incidents within the book that will grip a child, particularly the ever present sense of danger in the tasks around the farm, and the fact that the children, even young children like Almanzo were expected to do so many things that would now only be the domaine of the adults. As a child I would have read and re-read these and imagined myself doing all these things. It’s one of those books that makes you long to travel back in time, just for a bit.